Sharing responsibility between the employer and the scaffold user for the safety of the user
End use is defined as “the ultimate use for which something is intended or to which it is put.” In the context of scaffolding, it can be said that an end user is someone who employs scaffolding for some purpose to some successful conclusion. What that purpose is and to what successful conclusion is anybody’s guess. And for forty years, the Scaffold & Access Industry Association, SAIA, has spent countless hours trying to figure that out. For forty years, the SAIA’s members have been developing safety guidelines for the users of scaffold products: end users. This process has continued without stop for 40 years. That’s right, without stop for 40 years! And what does the association have to show for it? What has the end user done with all that information?
There are Codes of Safe Practice; there are safety videos; there are training programs, and there are alliances with the U.S. federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration, OSHA. There have been meetings, seminars, talks, presentations, summits and negotiations. That’s a lot of stuff! And yet, what has been accomplished since 1972 when the association was chartered as the Scaffold Industry Association? Workers are still dying while using scaffolds to access their work despite the fact that scaffold companies continue to provide safe products for the end user. Has the end user benefited from the information that has been promulgated or has it been a waste of time? Is there factual evidence to reward the SAIA members for their efforts? Is there an actual reward for these efforts or is it the perception that the effort itself produces the reward? I don’t know.
By its very nature, a scaffold, whether it is the traditional component scaffold, a mast climber, boom lift or anything in between, presents many opportunities for misuse. Does this in and of itself make this equipment dangerous? Most definitely not. As with any manufactured product, if it is used correctly, the outcome will be positive; use it incorrectly and the outcome will be ugly. But then, where does the problem lie? Is it with the scaffold suppliers or is it with the end user? Perhaps it’s time to ask if the end user really cares. In other words, can the SAIA really create a safe workplace? What do you think?
It can be argued that most of the safety information promulgated by the SAIA is aimed at the employer; this is due to the extent of the information and the necessity to include as much stuff as possible. What needs to be determined is how much of this stuff gets down to the employee/end user.
Obviously it is the employer who has the responsibility to provide the employee with the valuable SAIA produced safety and training information. It is also obvious that the employer has an incentive to do this since OSHA’s primary responsibility is to enforce the regulations, including the regulation (29 CFR 1926.21(b)(2)) that requires that employers must “instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions (bad scaffold) and the regulations applicable to his work.” Unfortunately, OSHA is not obligated to enforce the regulations when it comes to the employee. In spite of the fact that the act authorizing OSHA specifies that employees shall comply with the standards (as stated in 5(b) of the “General Duty Clause”), OSHA has generally been prohibited from doing so by the U.S. Congress. Since the employee, who is the real end user, is immune from prosecution for OSHA violations, there is very little that the employer, and more importantly the SAIA, can do to reprogram an employee/end user who has no desire to utilize safety in his work habits. (He probably was the kindergarten kid who ran with scissors; where was OSHA when we needed it?)
Furthermore, the industry may be misled by incorrect information. After all, you can’t ask a dead employee what happened to cause her death. Therefore, it is the quality of the post-accident investigation that will govern the outcome; bad investigation, bad results. Compounding this is the desire by safety oriented investigators to find someone culpable for a dead worker’s mistake. Don’t get me wrong—an employer who fails to provide training must be punished as the law requires. Unfortunately it is oftentimes quickly assumed the employer, and by extension the scaffold supplier, has violated the law because of an injury or death. This is particularly egregious when there is no proof to substantiate the assumption. It is even worse when the employee’s conduct is ignored.
So what can be done? Here’s an idea to think about: since the regulations are mandatory, why not also make it mandatory, under threat of punishment, that if the end user does not seek out the training required to work safely on scaffolds, he or she shall be fined. Oh wait—that requirement already exists. Now is time to enforce it. It should be clear that end users, as well as employers and scaffold suppliers, have a responsibility for their own safety. Indeed this responsibility cannot be delegated. Frankly, since the end user is someone “who employs scaffolding for some purpose to some successful conclusion,” it’s time for the end user to personally achieve his/her successful, and safe, use of scaffolds.